Well, here I am. First, there are a few things I need to get out of the way. I am a rank amateur, wet behind the ears, rook, meat, whatever you want to call me. I’m the new guy. I don’t write to make bank. I write to reach people, to make them feel, and to make them think. I would be writing even if there wasn’t a dime in it for me. I can’t help it. The money (if it ever shows up) is just gravy. I’ve always felt that if anyone was writing just for the money, then they were in the wrong line of work. Maybe I’m full of shit, but there it is.
After reading extensively on the pros and cons of self-publishing, I thought I would give it a shot. The worst that can happen is…nothing. We’ll get back to that. I decided to start with the KDP Select program, in the hopes of exposing my work to the largest amount of readers possible. I know, I know; you’re asking why I didn’t release widely to Smashwords and Pubit! along with Kindle. The answer? I didn’t feel like it, dammit! I’m kidding. The real answer is: I’m still learning, and hadn’t really thought about it. A mistake, yes, but if we’re smart we learn from our mistakes.
I’ll back up a bit here. I put together a business plan before I published. Stop snickering you guys in the back! Yes, to be successful in self-publishing I believe you need a business plan. How can you reach your goal without a plan to get there? How do you expect to publish 5,10, or even 15 novels a year if you have no idea what needs to be done in order to achieve those goals? Answer: you won’t. Now, I hate goal-setting. I know I’m not supposed to say that out loud, but I know I’m not alone in that sentiment either. I hate going to the dentist too, but it doesn’t mean I can just skip it.
I drew up a spreadsheet with a yearly goal of 9 published works (about a 50/50 mix of novels and novellas) before the end of 2012. I broke down the year into months, with their own goals. I went further by noting individual tasks and activities (e.g. crank out 2000 words on story Y, learn rudimentary HTML, copy-edit story X, etc) that must be completed by such and such date. I even went so far as to note estimated word count per day needed to finish the individual works on time to make the goals. Ambitious for a first time writer? Maybe. I call it keeping my feet to the fire. See, I (like many writers with an ounce of intellectual honesty) have a lazy streak a mile wide. If I don’t have these signposts, these markers, in place I will backslide and procrastinate like a mofo. I know I will. So, goals and mini-goals it is.
Next, I tried to estimate how many books I would sell per month (on average) and extrapolated that data out to the end of the year as more and more titles are added. How did I reach these estimated numbers? They are WAGs (wild ass guesses). I had no idea. But you have to start somewhere, so I estimated on average I would sell 5-10 copies per book per month. Shitty, I know, but I set the bar low to minimize disappointment. Glass half-empty you say? Shut up.
So, with this out of the way, I decided what I wanted to publish first. It was an erotic story that I had a soft spot for called A Message of Love. I had already ruthlessly edited the story, so that was at least out of the way. I did the best I could with formatting and creating a cover on a limited budget (read: broke), and published the story. I didn’t expect much. I was right not to. For days I checked every few hours to see if there had been any buys or borrows. Crickets. Damn. I decided to yank it down and tweak a few things. I greatly improved the blurb. I added a new opening since the old opening, well, sucked. One of the things I realized was that the sampling feature puts even more onus on the writer to make the opening gripping, hot, scary, whatever. It needs to make someone want to keep reading. Writing 101, right? Well, I had screwed that up. The old opening was a slow set-up; it was laying the groundwork for what came later. Yeah, it sucked.
Then I published it again, and decided to run it for two days as free. I was happy to see that it had 205 downloads in the first 12 hours. That’s absolutely PITIFUL for almost anyone else, but for a dude with a little story lost at sea, it was a damned nice thing to see. Maybe 10% of those downloaders would actually read the thing! It was downloaded over 400 times during the first 24 hours, shooting the book into the top 40 for erotica (I think it peaked at #34 Erotica, #363 for Free). The second day saw a slow decline in the rate of downloads, but I did finally see the algorithms start doing their work. Some also viewed titles began showing up. It was five pages worth, but it was a start. There was a problem though: some of the titles while they were erotica, were nothing like my story. At first I was irritated, but then I realized that this would just take time. Both Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath are constantly harping on the fact that self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. When I told myself that, I felt better – and kept writing. The two day promo finished out with 618 downloads and one refund. My guess is that one refund was a freebie hunter downloading the title just as the promo was ending (he got charged and said “Ah HELL no”). Oh well.
So today, the day after the two day promo, my book – unlike before – has a sales ranking! Too bad it started at 216,000 and has been sinking from there. This is reality. I am nobody. This is going to be hard, and frustrating, and heartbreaking. Tough shit! I picked this for myself and I am not giving up. Maybe I am a terrible writer (I think that’s likely), but the more I practice anything, the better I get at it. That’s a fact. So, I will take the advice of Smith and Konrath and just keep writing. Eventually, I will find someone who likes what I do. If it’s one person I’ve touched, then I will have succeeded.
1. A good opening is critical; if you don’t have one, it won’t matter how good your cover or formatting is. Rewrite the opening until it does it’s job: hooking the reader.
2. When you are starting, you are nothing, in a sea of nothings. Put the ego aside and accept it. Luck, prolific writing, improvement in your writing ability, and Amazon’s algos will get you where you need to go. Remember, this takes time. Use that time to keep writing. And stop checking your sales numbers, dammit!
3. If you add a new opening, make sure you remember which Word file contained the latest version of the story. If you use sloppy, vague filenames like I did, you are going to be introducing your forehead to your keyboard. Don’t do what I did.
4. If you add a new opening, make sure to take the time to EDIT the fucking thing. Grrr! I forgot to even use the spellchecker. Now I have to rip the thing back down for a copy-edit. Don’t do what I did.
5. Move on. Learn from your mistakes, and resolve not to repeat them – but don’t dwell on them. Excessive self-criticism leads to paralysis.
Now, back to that writing…